The Power of Smart Agriculture & the Role of RF Technology

The world of agriculture has always been one to adopt new technologies. From their early adoption of the cotton gin to steam engines, farmers have been among the greatest innovators throughout history. It is hard to imagine the industrial revolution without the advances in commercial farming that could keep the factory workers in the cities fed. This trend continues to this day. This article is the first in a new series exploring various aspects of the deployment and impact of smart technology in the agriculture and farming industry.

Autonomous tractor working in the field. Smart farming concept

Advances in the agricultural sector have been overshadowed in recent decades by developments in other areas. While advanced technologies such as microelectronics and the internet make headlines, the pace and appetite for innovation in the agricultural sector has not slowed. As illustrated in an Intel infographic, the global population is predicted to reach nearly 10 billion by the middle of the 21st century, and farmers have been quick to adopt technology that will increase production and improve their efficiency.

Smart Farming

One of the biggest trends in the industrial world over the past decade has been the growth of the smart factory. This is the name given to developments that have seen increasing connectivity between computers and machinery within the manufacturing sector. Within the smart factory, machines collect data and share it with the entire network, enabling manufacturers to monitor and rapidly respond to change. There is a parallel trend within the agricultural industry known as smart farming.

Smart farming embraces the latest sensor, computing and connectivity technologies, and uses data to enable farmers to maximize their yield. This data is collected from a wide variety of sources and is used to help make decisions, from identifying optimum soil conditions to monitoring the health of livestock and adjusting their nutrition. Although the amount of data collected is vast, the technology of the smart farm means that strategies can be applied to individual fields or animals, making the best use of resources and ensuring the greatest productivity.

New technology is therefore vital to the collection, sharing and processing of this huge amount of information. The development of modern electronics—with reduced size, lower production costs and efficient power consumption—has made it possible to deploy the large number of sensors required. These devices might be deployed in a static location within a field, on a dynamic platform such as a tractor or combined harvester, or even fed to livestock to allow individual animals to be tracked across a large area.

In each of these applications, the integration of sensors into an information network allows data to be collected, shared and analyzed. Whether done with traditional cables or over a wireless communications network, it is this connectivity that defines the smart farm.

New Technologies

The introduction of 5G communications has provided a new and powerful tool for farmers. Although the consumer market has seen the most visible adoption of this new technology, 5G’s capabilities will have a far greater impact in other areas. Not only does 5G provide wireless communications that are on par with the speed of wired alternatives, but it also has the potential to connect rural areas that have traditionally lacked access to the latest high-speed networks.

Attractive farmer navigating drone above farmland with silos and tractor in background. High technology innovations for increasing productivity in agriculture

This new connectivity is perfect for the smart farm. For the first time, 5G technology will allow the farmer to integrate all aspects of technology into a unified network. Static sensors and remote monitoring devices can all provide real-time data to the farmer. When these are combined with other advanced technology such as GPS navigation, farmers will be able to use their resources precisely where they are needed most.

Even traditional farm machinery will benefit from the latest technology. The ability to communicate rapidly using wireless technology is being incorporated in the latest generation of tractors. Low latency vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication is allowing the use of autonomous or driverless vehicles. Guided by GPS and using data from the smart farm network, tractors and other farm vehicles will be able to operate safely without supervision. Farmers are even able to take to the skies, with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) being used for both data collection and aerial application of fertilizers.

Solution: The Role of RF Technology

Radio frequency (RF) communication is at the heart of many of these innovations. It is easy to forget in the current age of digital technology that wireless systems still depend on high-frequency radio transmitters and receivers in order to communicate. With the latest equipment sending data at staggering rates, designers depend on high-performance RF connectors. However, there are challenges that go along with integrating the latest technologies into the agricultural industry that need to be addressed. We will explore some of these challenges in our next article in the series.

Molex has many decades of experience manufacturing complete solutions for RF applications. Embracing the latest 5G technology and designing products for superior signal integrity, Molex can create cables and connectors solutions for frequencies up to 65 GHz, even in the tough conditions found in the agricultural industry. With its global presence and supply chain, Molex is a key partner in this exciting industry. Contact Molex to find out how our we are working with innovation leaders in the smart agriculture industry to provide the solutions for tomorrow’s farmers.

And to continue the conversation on smart agriculture, read the second article in our series, “The Challenges of Integrating Smart Technology into Agricultural Machinery.”

Product Manager, RF and Microwave Products